Leading Off

Denard Span has without question been the Twins best leadoff hitter and one of the reasons often cited for that is the fact that he sees a lot of pitches early in the game and forces the pitcher to show all of their pitches so the other hitters know what they are up against.  The fact that Span is more patient when leading off the game is pretty indisputable.

Stat Leading Off Other Total
PA 66 243 309
Pitches/PA 4.38 3.86 3.97
0-strike 2 (3%) 54* (22%) 56* (18%)
2-strike 35 (53%) 98 (40%) 133 (43%)
Full 11 (17%) 32 (13%) 43 (14%)
* – includes 4 plate appearances without a strike thrown (3 four-pitch walks and a HBP)

He sees a significantly larger number of pitches in the first inning than his other at-bats (of course a small sample caveat has to be applied to this whole exercise).  He waits for the first strike almost every time when leading off (as opposed to putting the first strike in play more than 1 in 5 times otherwise) and gets to two-strike counts in over half of his first inning plate appearances.

But it seems like he may be taking the patient approach to the point where it is detrimental to his production.

Stat Leading Off Other Total
PA 66 243 309
BA .211 .312 .291
OBP .318 .395 .379
SLG .228 .427 .384
OPS .546 .822 .763

A .546 OPS is nearing Punto (2007 version) territory and it’s clearly not reflective of the hitter that Span is.  It’s nigh impossible to calculate the effect the extra pitches seen have on the rest of the lineup, but it is at least a disturbing pattern for the Twins leadoff man.  More 2-strike counts will depress anyone’s numbers and it seems to me, the Twins would be better served if Span focused less on maximizing the number of pitches he sees, and more on putting the ball in play when he has the best chance for success, which seems to be earlier in the at-bat for him.

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2 thoughts on “Leading Off

  1. One thing to keep in mind is that in general, hitters do better the more they see a pitcher in a game. A .546 OPS seems like it might be extreme (tough to say with the sample size), but on general considerations, we’d expect him to do better after the first PA than in his first PA.

    • That’s a good point. I guess it’s probably a combination of factors that all add up to depress the numbers – first time facing a pitcher, more often behind in count, small sample, etc.

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